Jerusalem

Happy Yom Yerushalayim From Talmudology

The Nobel Prize, Jerusalem, and Being a Mensch

As we celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem with prayer and festive meals (and in Jerusalem itself, with parades and barbeques) let’s remind ourselves of a person who personifies the essence of a commitment to Jewish tradition, science and Zionism: Robert Aumann.

As we have mentioned before, in 2005 Aumann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. It recognized his work on conflict, cooperation, and game theory (yes, the same kind of game theory made famous by John Nash, portrayed in A Beautiful Mind). Aumann worked on the dynamics of arms control negotiations, and developed a theory of repeated games in which one party has incomplete information.  The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted that this theory is now "the common framework for analysis of long-run cooperation in the social science."

Jews have been yearning for the land of Israel, and for Jerusalem, for close to 2000 years – ever since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70, and the ensuing exile of the Jewish people. In our central prayer, which we recite three times a day, we ask the Lord to “return to Jerusalem Your city in mercy, and rebuild it and dwell therein.” Jerusalem is mentioned many thousands of times in the scriptures, in our other prayers, in the Talmud, and indeed in all our sources. So when the state of Israel was established in 1948, my brother and I made a determination eventually to make our lives there.
— Robert Aumann. "Biographical." From Nobel.org

Aumann’s speech to the Swiss Academy was a moving testimony to the Zionist dream, in which he was proud to have played a part. And Aumann knows the price of this dream; his oldest child, Shlomo, was killed in action while serving in the Israel Defense Forces in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Here is what the good Professor said in Stockholm. It is surely the only Nobel Prize Banquet Speech ever to mention the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.

.ברוך אתה יי אלו-ינו מלך העולם הטוב והמיטיב

Blessed are you, God, our Lord, Monarch of the Universe, who is good and does good.

After partaking of a meal with fine wines, we recite this benediction when we are served with a superb wine.Your Royal Highnesses, we have, over the years, partaken of many fine wines. We have participated in the scientific enterprise: studied and taught, preserved, and pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge.

.למדנו ולימדנו, שמרנו ועשינו

We have participated in the human enterprise – raised beautiful families. And I have participated in the realization of a 2000-year-old dream – the return of my people to Jerusalem, to its homeland. And tonight, we have been served with a superb wine, in the recognition of the worth of our scientific enterprise. I feel very strongly that this recognition is not only for us, but for all of game theory, in Israel and in the whole world – teachers, students, colleagues, and co-workers. And especially for one individual, who is no longer with us – the mother of game theory, Oskar Morgenstern.

So, I offer my thanks to these, to the Nobel Foundation and the Nobel Committee, to our magnificent hosts, the country of Sweden, and to the Lord, who is good and does good.

For me, life has been – and still is – one tremendous joyride, one magnificent tapestry. There have been bad – very bad – times, like when my son Shlomo was killed and when my wife Esther died. But even these somehow integrate into the magnificent tapestry. In one of his beautiful letters, Shlomo wrote that there can be no good without bad. Both Shlomo and Esther led beautiful, meaningful lives, affected many people, each in his own way.
— Robert Aumann.

Robert Aumann and his cousin, Oliver Sacks

In 2015 the late great neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote a moving piece called The Sabbath. In it he recalled growing up in the orthodox Jewish community of north-west London. “Though I could not understand the Hebrew in the prayer book” he wrote “I loved its sound and especially hearing the old medieval prayers sung, led by our wonderfully musical hazan.”

But Sacks had a secret: he was attracted to men. His father made him admit to this, but Sacks asked that he not tell his mother. Sacks continues:

He did tell her, and the next morning she came down with a look of horror on her face, and shrieked at me: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.” (She was no doubt thinking of the verse in Leviticus that read, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”)

The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.

Sacks wrote about his homosexuality for the first time in his 2015 autobiography On the Move: A Life. And he found love later in his life, with his partner Bill Hayes, with whom he lived until Sacks died in 2015.

The cruel treatment Sacks received from his mother must have been a life-long burden, but Sacks found some solace in the behavior of his cousin - Robert Aumann. Let’s let Sacks tell the story:

During the 1990s, I came to know a cousin and contemporary of mine, Robert John Aumann, a man of remarkable appearance with his robust, athletic build and long white beard that made him, even at 60, look like an ancient sage. He is a man of great intellectual power but also of great human warmth and tenderness, and deep religious commitment — “commitment,” indeed, is one of his favorite words. Although, in his work, he stands for rationality in economics and human affairs, there is no conflict for him between reason and faith.

He insisted I have a mezuza on my door, and brought me one from Israel. “I know you don’t believe,” he said, “but you should have one anyhow.” I didn’t argue.

Towards the end of his life Sacks paid one last visit to Aumann.

I had felt a little fearful visiting my Orthodox family with my lover, Billy — my mother’s words still echoed in my mind — but Billy, too, was warmly received. How profoundly attitudes had changed, even among the Orthodox, was made clear by Robert John when he invited Billy and me to join him and his family at their opening Sabbath meal.

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?

Robert Aumann, is not just a Zionist or a Nobel Laureate. He something far, far more important. He is a mensch.

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Bechorot 16a ~ A Flat Earth, The Eye, and the Sky

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota. Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.  This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.
This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

בכורות טז, א

A film over the eye - בדוקין שבעין

An animal brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a sacrifice must be free of physical deformities or blemishes. One of these is a film over the cornea or, according to some, over the eyelid. The word duk (דק), which in modern Hebrew means thin, is translated as either a cataract (Soncino and Schottenstein) or “a veiled or withered spot” (Jastrow).

Rashi and the Meaning of דֹּק

To better understand the etymology of the word, Rashi draws our attention to the verse in Isaiah (40:22 ) הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵם כָּאֹהֶל לָשָׁבֶת “Who spread out the skies like a film [כַדֹּק], stretched them out like a tent to dwell in.” He notes that in the French of his day the the word for דֹּק is “teile” or toile, (טייל׳א or טולא) meaning a canvas or fabric. So the Talmud is describing a film over the eye, and this is certainly a reasonable way to describe a cataract, which is a cloudiness of the lens in the eye. In a cow it would look like this:

 
A cow with a cataract.

A cow with a cataract.

 

Rashi’s second explanation and a map of the world

Rashi then gives an alternative meaning for the word: a blemish on the eyelids. He continues

ל"א דוקין שיש לו מום בעפעפים ולהכי קרי לעפעפים דוק על העין כרקיע דהכי אמרינן בספרי אגודות העין דומה לעולם קטן העפעפים כנגד הרקיע והתחתון כנגד הארץ והלבן שמקיף את העין כנגד ים אוקיינוס שסובב את העולם והשחור שבו שהוא עגול דומה לגלגל חמה

We read about this in homiletic stories: The eye is a mini representation of the world. The upper eyelid represent the rakia (the vault over the sky that contains the stars) and the lower lid represents the earth. The white of the eye [the conjunctiva] represents the ocean that encircles the world, and the dark part which is circular [the pupil] represents the orbit of the sun.

Rashi seems to suggest that since the upper eyelid is described as representing the skies, which are stretched out like a canvas, working backwards the word דֹּק could mean the eyelid. The aggadic (homiletic) parable to which Rashi is referring is from Derech Eretz Zuta, a minor tractate of the Talmud (and not part of the daily one-page a day cycle). Here it is, from the end of the ninth chapter:


אבא איסי בן יוחנן משום שמואל הקטן אומר: העולם הזה דומה לגלגל עינו של אדם. לבן שבו זה אוקיינוס שמקיף את כל העולם שחור שבו זה העולם קומט שבשחור זה ירושלים פרצוף שבקומט זה בית המקדש, שיבנה במהרה בימינו ובימי כל ישראל אמן

The world can be compared to the eyes of a person. The whites of the eyes are the ocean that encircles the entire world. The dark part (? the ring around the iris) is the world, the iris [lit. the folded part of the pupil] is Jerusalem, and the pupil [lit image in the iris] is the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days and the days of all of Israel, Amen.

Two maps of the world

So we have two ways in which eye might echo a map of the world. And although it is not entirely clear what the terms קומט שבשחור and פרצוף שבקומט mean, the maps look something like this:

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Both of these “eye maps” capture elements of talmudic geography. In the talmudic mind, the Earth was a flat disc covered by an opaque sky known as the rakia. Exactly how the sun moved was the topic of a famous dispute between the “wise men of Israel” and the “wise Gentiles.” Here it is:

פסחים צד,ב

חכמי ישראל אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למעלה מן הרקיע וחכמי אומות העולם אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למטה מן הקרקע אמר רבי ונראין דבריהן מדברינו שביום מעינות צוננין ובלילה רותחין

The wise men of Israel say that during the day the Sun travels under the rakia, and at night it travels above the rakia. And Gentile wise men say: during the day the Sun travels under the rakia and at night under the Earth. Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] said: their view is more logical than ours for during the day springs are cold and at night they are warm.

The two options are shown below. In both, the earth is a flat disc surrounded by water. They really do match nicely with the eyeballs image.

From Judah Landa.  Torah and Science . Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

From Judah Landa. Torah and Science. Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum  #92687 .

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum #92687.

We have discussed the sun’s orbit around the earth back in February 2017. There is no doubt that the rabbis of the Talmud actually believed the world was actually a disk surrounded by an ocean. It was not a metaphor, even though describing the world as being reflected in the anatomy of the eye certainly is. (To read more about talmudic astronomy and the path of the sun around the flat earth, see here.) The rabbis of the Talmud were following a long held belief that the world is flat, which we can trace all the way back to the earliest known map, found in Babylon and made in the 6th century BCE. It shows a flat, disk like earth surrounded by waters. And that is the picture most people had, because, well, that’s what it looks like to us. But that changed when the great Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, a figure that was within about 10% of its true value.

Jerusalem-Centric Maps

Bunting-Map-of-the-World-around-Jerusalem-site-Keilo-Jack.jpg

Before Copernicus, the earth was thought to be the physical center of the universe. All the planets in our solar system and all the stars beyond it were thought to orbit in perfect circles around us. And at the very center of the geocentric universe, was Jerusalem. You can see this beautifully demonstrated in the famous clover leaf map of the world by Heinrich Bunting (1545-1606). The original map now happily rests in Bunting’s bull’s-eye; it is part of the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

Writing in the 16th century, the Maharsha, R. Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) suggested that since the Earth is a sphere, Israel and Jerusalem can be seen as if they were its center.

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף סט עמוד א

 שהעולם הוא כתפוח ומקום בהמ"ק הוא מרכז עולם וכן א"י ולכך אמרו בא"י כיון דהוא מקום הממוצע אוירו מזוג

The world is round like an apple, and the Temple is at its center. So too is the Land of Israel, which is why it has a moderate climate

In fact Bunting’s clover leaf map and the Maharsha’s suggestion can now be combined with Google-era technology. It’s just one more way to help keep Jerusalem in our hearts and prayers.

Orthographic T&O  map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.

Orthographic T&O map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.


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Zevachim 54b ~ How High is Jerusalem?

זבחים נד, ב

דרש רבא מאי דכתיב (שמואל א יט, יח) "וילך דוד ושמואל וישבו בנויות ברמה" וכי מה ענין נויות אצל רמה? אלא שהיו יושבין ברמה ועוסקין בנויו של עולם אמרי כתיב (דברים יז, ח) וקמת ועלית אל המקום מלמד שבית המקדש גבוה מכל ארץ ישראל וארץ ישראל גבוהה מכל ארצות

Rava taught: What is the meaning of that which is written concerning David: “And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth. And it was told Saul, saying: Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah” (I Samuel 19:18–19)? But what does Naioth have to do with Ramah? They are in two distinct places. Rather, this means that they were sitting in Ramah and were involved in discussing the beauty [benoyo] of the world, i.e., the Temple. David and Samuel said: It is written: “Then you shall arise, and get you up unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose” (Deuteronomy 17:8). This teaches that the Temple is higher than all places in Eretz Yisrael. And Eretz Yisrael is higher than all countries. 

This passage is unequivocal in its meaning: Jerusalem - that is, the Temple Mount -  is the highest place in Israel, and Israel itself is the highest place on earth. Now you don't need me to tell you that this is not a true statement. But I will anyway. It's not true. When I lived in Efrat it would often snow there while in Jerusalem, a mere twenty minutes away, there would be no snow. Why? Because Efrat is at a higher elevation than is Jerusalem. And if you have looked out from the Bet Midrash of the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus you will look down on the Temple Mount some three hundred feet below.

There is another passage in the Talmud that teaches the same point but uses some additional verses from the Book of Jeremiah to prove (as it were) that the Land of Israel is higher than all other places on earth. Here it is:

Picture of a mountain.jpeg

סנהדרין פז, א 

ועלית מלמד שבית המקדש גבוה מא"י וא"י גבוה מכל הארצות אל המקום בשלמא בית המקדש גבוה מא"י דכתיב ועלית אלא א"י גבוה מכל הארצות מנא ליה דכתיב לכן הנה ימים באים נאם ה' (לא יאמר) חי ה' אשר העלה את בני ישראל מארץ מצרים כי אם חי ה' אשר העלה ואשר הביא את זרע בית ישראל מארץ צפונה ומכל הארצות אשר הדחתים שם וישבו על אדמתם

"And you shall go up" [Deut 17:8] This teaches that the Holy Temple is higher than all other places in Israel...And from where do we now that Israel is higher than all other lands? From the verses [Jeremiah 23: 7-8] "Therefore, behold the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' But the Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I have driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land."

Rashi points to yet another verse from the Book of Jeremiah (16:23) that teaches that Israel is the highest place on earth.

רשי, זבחים נד, ב

וארץ ישראל גבוהה מכל הארצות - לא מיבעיא לן הכא ולאו מהכא נפקא לן אלא מקרא אחרינא דכתיב (ירמיהו טז כג) לא יאמר עוד חי וגו' כי אם חי ה' אשר העלה ואשר הביא את בני ישראל מארץ צפון ומכל המקומות אשר הדחתים שם וגו

So it's not just a one-off statement. The Talmud in at least two places, and Rashi in a third, claim that Israel is the highest place on earth. But after a quick check in your reference book or internet search engine of choice you will see this is not correct. It's not even close. (I'm talking to you, Denver).

it's true; Google said so

Here are some other places, randomly chosen that are physically higher than Jerusalem.

Location Elevation (feet)
Jerusalem 2,424
Mount of Olives 2,710
Hebron 3,051
Efrat 3,150
Ben Nevis (UK) 4,413
Denver, Colorado 5,280
Johannesburg, South Africa 5,751
Mount Everest 29,029

Maharsha to the Rescue?

The Maharsha, R. Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) in his commentary to Kiddushin 69a  suggests that since the Earth is a sphere, Israel and Jerusalem can be seen as if they were its "center."

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף סט עמוד א

 שהעולם הוא כתפוח ומקום בהמ"ק הוא מרכז עולם וכן א"י ולכך אמרו בא"י כיון דהוא מקום הממוצע אוירו מזוג ומחכים ויותר מקום המקדש שע"כ היו שם בלשכת הגזית חכמי סנהדרין וק"ל

Perhaps the Maharsha means that the spherical earth spins on its axis and that is the highest point, just like you might see a model of the earth on a bookshelf that spins on an axis with the North Pole at the top. But that cannot be, because the axis of the rotation of the Earth does not pass through Israel. It passes through the North Pole.  

No No. It is all metaphorical

The Talmud's claim is measurably incorrect, and several commentators suggest a metaphorical explanation. For example, the mystically inclined Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yeduah Loew, wrote that Jerusalem is, spiritually speaking, the highest point on Earth (באר הגולה, הבאר הששי). Elsewhere, the Maharal suggests that just as water flows from the peaks of mountains down into valleys, it is Torah teachings that flow down from the spiritual capital Jerusalem to water the rest of the world.  Perhaps it is this that gives Israel and its capital a shot at the claim of being the most spiritually elevated.  Perhaps. But it's a claim that is contingent on the behavior of all those who live there.

אמר ר' יוסי: מבקש אתה לראות פני השכינה בעולם הזה? עסוק בתורה בארץ ישראל"

(מדרש תהלים, תחילת פרק ק"ה).

Rav Yosi said: Do you desire to see the face of the Divine in this world? 
Then study Torah in the Land of Israel.

[Partial repost from Sanhedrin 87. Want more on this topic? Then try this nice essay from Dr Nissin Elikim in Hebrew.]

 

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Sanhedrin 87a ~ How High is Jerusalem?

Picture of a mountain.jpeg

סנהדרין פז, א 

ועלית מלמד שבית המקדש גבוה מא"י וא"י גבוה מכל הארצות אל המקום בשלמא בית המקדש גבוה מא"י דכתיב ועלית אלא א"י גבוה מכל הארצות מנא ליה דכתיב לכן הנה ימים באים נאם ה' (לא יאמר) חי ה' אשר העלה את בני ישראל מארץ מצרים כי אם חי ה' אשר העלה ואשר הביא את זרע בית ישראל מארץ צפונה ומכל הארצות אשר הדחתים שם וישבו על אדמתם

"And you shall go up" [Deut 17:8] This teaches that the Holy Temple is higher than all other places in Israel...And from where do we now that Israel is higher than all other lands? From the verses [Jeremiah 23: 7-8] "Therefore, behold the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' But the Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I have driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land."

This passage is unequivocal in its meaning: Jerusalem - that is, the Temple Mount -  is the highest place in Israel, and Israel itself is the highest place on earth. Now you don't need me to tell you that this is not a true statement. But I will anyway. It's not true. When I lived in Efrat it would often snow there while in Jerusalem, a mere twenty minutes away, there would be no snow. Why? Because Efrat is at a higher elevation than is Jerusalem. And if you have looked out from the Bet Midrash of the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus you will look down on the Temple Mount some three hundred feet below.

Google To the Rescue

Here are some other places, randomly chosen that are physically higher than Jerusalem.

Location Elevation (feet)
Jerusalem 2,424
Mount of Olives 2,710
Hebron 3,051
Efrat 3,150
Ben Nevis (UK) 4,413
Denver, Colorado 5,280
Johannesburg, South Africa 5,751
Mount Everest 29,029

Maharsha to the Rescue?

The Maharsha, R. Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) in his commentary to Kiddushin 69a  suggests that since the Earth is a sphere, Israel and Jerusalem can be seen as if they were its "center."

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף סט עמוד א

 שהעולם הוא כתפוח ומקום בהמ"ק הוא מרכז עולם וכן א"י ולכך אמרו בא"י כיון דהוא מקום הממוצע אוירו מזוג ומחכים ויותר מקום המקדש שע"כ היו שם בלשכת הגזית חכמי סנהדרין וק"ל

Perhaps the Maharsha means that the spherical earth spins on its axis and that is the highest point, just like you might see a model of the earth on a bookshelf that spins on an axis with the North Pole at the top. But that cannot be, because the axis of the rotation of the Earth does not pass through Israel. It passes through the North Pole.  

No No. It is all metaphorical

Because the Talmud's claim is measurably incorrect, several commentators suggest a metaphorical explanation: Jerusalem is, spiritually speaking, the highest point on Earth.  Tomorrow, Jews in Israel celebrate the completion of the reading of the Torah, and start to read it again from the beginning. Perhaps it is those kind of celebrations that give Israel and its capital a shot at the claim of being most spiritually elevated.  Perhaps. 

חג שמח from Talmudology.  

 

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